Can You Wash A Sleeping Bag In A Washing Machine?

A sleeping bag is one of the pieces of gear that can get scummy and smelly easily if you don’t properly clean it. If becomes pretty obvious to wash when it starts to stink the movement you pull it out. It can, however, be a little bit daunting to wash a sleeping bag in a washing machine because it’s a bit expensive piece of gear and quite often, it’s full of feathers that can be ruined in a washer.

When it comes to washing a sleeping bag, it’s important to put off cleaning as long as you can. Because washing anything in a washing machine will cause gradual degradation of a product. Unfortunately, you reach the point very quickly where you think you need to wash it.

Machine Washing Steps

So if you have decided to wash your sleeping bag in a washing machine as opposed to hand washing, here is the step-by-step process:

  1. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions before washing.
  2. Unzip your sleeping bag and turn it inside out. Why? Because most sleeping bags these days have got fairly water-repellent shell lining on them. The soap and water that you are going to be using won’t fight against it. So, it’s always a good idea to turn your sleeping inside out.
  3. Put the sleeping bag in the washing machine and use a front-loading washer. Avoid the top-loading washers because your bag can entangle or wrap around the agitator, which can damage your sleeping bag.
  4. Use a dedicated detergent designed especially for washing outdoor gear. Don’t use a standard laundry detergent because it can lead to clumping or reduce the loft. Home laundry detergents may also leave a film on the shell of the bag that can act as a hydrophobic agent.
  5. For down bags, I would recommend a special gear wash such as Nikwax Down Wash Direct. You can also use the one that the manufacturer recommends. If you’ve got a synthetic or polyester fill bag, I would also recommend using a proper cleaner like Nikwax Tech-Wash because standard laundry detergent can also lead to clumping even in a synthetic bag.
  6. Use warm water and a gentle agitation cycle or follow the bag maker’s instructions.
  7. Rinse your bag twice with water before removing the bag from the washer. This will remove the detergent completely.
  8. When removing the bag from the washer, support the entire bag and not just the end. Because seams on your bag are delicate and they can rip off easily. Remember your bag becomes very heavy when it is wet.
  9. Gently squeeze the bag to remove excess water and proceed to the drying step.

Drying Steps

Keep in mind that synthetic bags will dry a lot quicker than their down counterparts. You should expect at least one hour for a synthetic bag to dry completely. Down bags, on the other hand, take several hours to dry except for hydrophobic down.

Following is the step-by-step process to dry the sleeping bag after washing it.

  1. Set the dryer on low heat because high heat can damage your bag, especially nylon fabric. Don’t try to use high heat just to speed up the drying process. It’s always a better idea to dry your bag at low heat for a relatively long time.
  2. For down bags, it’s recommended to use two or three clean tennis balls. Tennis balls help agitate the fill back to the original loft. They also help break up clumps of down, which speeds up the drying process. If you’ve got a synthetic bag, you can also use tennis balls to speed up the drying process but it’s optional.
  3. Let the dryer run as many cycles as needed to completely dry the bag. Let it run for at least an hour even if you’ve got a down sleeping bag.
  4. Once finished, take your sleeping bag out of the dryer and hang it overnight just to make sure there’s no moisture left in the seams.
  5. Now, you are ready to use your clean sleeping bag.

How often should you wash your sleeping bag?

A sleeping bag needs to be washed once a year with normal use. You don’t need to wash it after every trip because frequent washing can damage its loft. If you use your bag more frequently, you may need to wash it more often such as twice a year. You can wash your bag at the end of the season when you are storing it for a longer period of time. This will increase the life of your bag because packing a dirty bag can reduce its loft.

Things to avoid

When washing a sleeping bag, you should avoid the following things:

  1. Never dry clean your sleeping bag. Because the solvents used in industrial dry cleaning contain harsh chemicals that can strip the natural oils of the down, the thing that actually helps down retains its loft.
  2. Never wash your bag in a top-loading washer. The agitators on the top-loading washer can damage your bag.
  3. Never use standard home detergent as it can lead to clumping or reduced loft.
  4. Never store your sleeping bag if it is not completely dry. Always hang your bag overnight even after the complete drying process.
  5. When taking your bag out of the washer, always hold the entire bag and not just the end. Seams and stitching on your bag are fragile and grabbing a wet and heavy bag from the end can damage the seams.
  6. Don’t use high heat when drying just to speed up the process. Always dry your bag at low heat.
  7. Don’t put a clean sleeping bag in dirty storage or stuff sack because it will undo the hard work you have just done. You should also wash your storage and stuff sack before putting your bag in it.

If you follow these steps carefully, you can safely wash your bag at home without damaging it.